Divergent (2014)

Info SidebarDivergent is yet another teen novel adaption that seeks to inspire the young and outsmart the adults by reworking the same foundation story over and over again, tweaking the characters and the troubles they face. The teens will be inspired, but I fear the adults will see this one coming. It is vastly better than Stephenie Meyer’s The Host, but looser, weaker, and more overdone than Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series.

All three titles were written by women, about young women, fighting, in most cases, other women. All three deal with dystopian futures and broken homes where the family cluster is the most important commodity. All three deal with corruption and the imminent probability of all-out war. All three have female heroes who break away from the norm. Of course, they are required to save the day, and the strapping young male characters are the macho ones who fall in love, provide some back up, and walk off into the sunset newly crowned Prince Charmings.

I am not a reader by nature, so all the novels have gone unread by me. But I have seen the movies they’ve inspired and have grown fond of The Hunger Games. There was real danger in Panem; a real threat to humanity. The writing was delicate but aggressive, with a lot of intelligence. Katniss Everdeen, the grand heroine played by Jennifer Lawrence, showed genuine cluelessness, a handicap vital to the success of her character.

Divergent gives us Beatrice Prior, a hearty girl of equal moral value. As played by Shailene Woodley, she is pretty and tough, and she’s got a good head on her broad shoulders. But she is not so much clueless as she is lost. She expects her greatness to arrive by the end of the movie, whereas Katniss fought hard to earn hers. Katniss had no time for love and kisses and flirtations; her world was closing in around her fast. Beatrice stops to admire the scenery, to notice the touch of her hero’s rugged hand, to realise the mood of love before the mood has even realised itself. This is by far the more romantic film, though I’m not sure the situation calls for romance.

Beatrice’s mate is a man who calls himself Four (why, you’ll find out for yourself), and his omnipresence is a surefire way of reminding us of his obligation to her. As played by the Brit, Theo James, he is handsome and needy, qualities all male teen heroes must either exercise or adopt. He belongs to Dauntless, one of the five factions of a futuristic Chicago, along with the clever Erudites, the selfless Abnegations, the peace-loving Amitys, and the political Candors. The Dauntless are the warriors, but their actions also indicate some form of proud hooliganism — most of their initiation rituals involve jumping almost to certain death, and their mode of transport is a train that, for crazy plot-driven reasons, cannot stop or slow down. You can imagine the embarkation and disembarkation protocols.

The factions were formed after a Great War left the world in ruins. They exist to keep the people in check. Any deviations, or Divergents, as they’re called, and the city goes into paranoid mode. Prowlers are unleashed and anyone not obeying the law is executed Nazi-style. Beatrice is one such Divergent. Her life is in constant peril. Her parents warn her of this, but her love for Four is all the comfort she needs. There is something sinister brewing in the city. She just hopes she can make top Dauntless before the brewing overflows.

Among the supporting cast are Ashley Judd as Beatrice’s action heroine mother; Tony Goldwyn as Beatrice’s thankless father; Ansel Elgort as Beatrice’s brother Caleb (it is amusing to see Elgort star opposite Woodley again in The Fault In Our Stars, this time as her lover); Jai Courtney as the ever-imposing Dauntless leader Eric, whose intentions are never fully made clear; and Kate Winslet as the smug and elusive Erudite leader Jeanine. Each one of them fills their roles adequately, knowing perfectly well the limitations of starring in a movie written, directed, and marketed for teens. Winslet, however, tips her hat more truthfully than Diane Kruger did in The Host.

There is a niche market for all these films. And there is a reason their heroes are girls. Divergent is another product of the factory, and director Neil Burger handles the material with the respect it deserves. He doesn’t tip it over the edge, nor does he hold back and break it down into sentimentality. It sits just right, maybe a little looser, and honours this new generation of female role models. Whether I’m a fan or not is a different matter. Now, a video game must be developed that includes Melanie Stryder, Katniss Everdeen and Beatrice Prior as playable characters. And we shall watch them fight each other to the death. The winner will save the world.


Best Moment | The crazy flying fox zip-line, spoiled only by a cliched last-minute stop.

Worst Moment | The ferris wheel scene. Definitely the ferris wheel scene.

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